It’s a fresh, clean new year. We indulged ourselves last month and ended the year with a blast. Now, it’s time to come back down to earth and face financial reality. Luckily, I have some tax tips you might find helpful as you try to stick to your financial goals and resolutions.
2012 brings us changes in some tax forms and reporting structures that will require ever more intense levels of recordkeeping. The requirements may seem inhibiting, but you can simply freeze and give up, or you can face them, head-on, and accept the new reality.
Enough clichés. Let’s get to work.
For 2012, you should hereby resolve to:
1) Keep detailed records of all your financial activities, including all receipts. It’s OK to scan them; as long as the scan is clean and readable, paper records are unnecessary.
2) Keep a detailed time diary of your business and investment-related activities. This has always been necessary for business. Now, if you own rental property, you also need to report your hours on the new Schedule E. You can track time on paper, using your appointment book (TaxMama uses a Day-at-a-Glance book) or the Tax MiniMiser, or you can simply use a regular monthly calendar with boxes large enough to write in. You can also do this electronically, with one of the many apps out there. One of my favorite services, FreshBooks, will not only track your time but will also help you do your billing and collect your money.
3) Keep detailed records of your driving (using the same tools as above). You can get deductions for medical mileage, charitable mileage, and volunteer mileage, as well as job-related miles and business miles. But for the vehicle expenses to count, you need both the business miles and the total miles driven on the vehicle for the year.
4) Put together your will and a detailed asset and liability record showing what you own and what you owe. Include copies of purchase information and warranties, as well as any account numbers and contact numbers related to the assets, insurance, and debts. Should anything happen to you, your family can step in and locate everything instead of having to search for it. If you have children, think very carefully about who you want to raise them if you become incapacitated or die. Yes, it’s an unpleasant thought, but things happen.
5) Pay off your debts. Since the Tax Reform Act of 1986, we have lost the right to deduct the interest on personal debt. So why pay any interest at all? First, see about paying off your high-interest credit cards with balance transfers to lower-interest cards. Then, put $5 each weekday in an envelope. At the end of each month, you’ll have an extra $100 to pay your bills.
6) Have fun! Decide what fun trips or special things you dearly want to do this year. Research the costs. Then, start setting aside the money you need to pay for those things. If you put just one $20 bill into an envelope each week, you’ll have $1,040 at the end of the year. Eliminate just one of your needless impulse buys each day, and you’ll have lots of money for the really great things you want to do. And remember, books, videos, and games are free at your local public library. When was the last time you visited?
Eva Rosenberg, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com®, where your tax questions are answered. She teaches tax professionals how to represent you when you have tax problems. She is the author of several books and e-books, including Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Follow her on Twitter: @TaxMama